The Stoic challenge: doing your job
On October 30th, I completed the 30-day Stoic Challenge, a program run by Ryan Holiday, author, blogger, and a big fan of the Stoics. His website is called “The Daily Stoic.” I signed up for his daily emails a while ago.
This September he announced his Stoic Challenge. He says:
Each day you’ll be challenged to adopt a habit that will help you:
✓ Complain Less
✓ Be More Thankful
✓ Realize Your Goals
✓ Manage Your Stress
✓ Stop Procrastinating
✓ Get Out Of Bed Earlier
✓ Journal More Effectively
✓ Improve Your Community
✓ And much, much more…
I didn’t think I could be more thankful or complain much less, but I could do with less procrastinating, and do more realizing of my goals. So, what the hell. It looked like a good way to get ready for NaNoWriMo in November. I paid my 30 bucks and took the challenge, starting October 1.
As it turned out I could be more thankful: I was thankful that I’d done the challenge and that Ryan had offered it. And I am doing a better job of realizing my goals.
Stoicism has an undeservedly bad name. I’ve always associated Stoicism with silent suffering. It’s anything but that. Being a stoic is about being responsible for yourself. It’s about knowing what you can control and what you can’t. It’s about accepting what comes, doing your best, despite circumstances that are sometimes trying and sometimes awful. It’s about doing your job and enjoying the fruits (bitter or sweet) of your labor.
Today’s Daily Stoic email was about our duty as citizens to vote, and the broader duty that we have to behave in the best way we can—regardless of the outcome. Holliday says (my emphasis):
Being good, like voting, is in our control. Whether it has a noticeable or significant impact on the world is not. But we do it anyway because it’s our duty. The same is true for voting—today, in the next election, in every election. Make your tiny contribution to the common good. Because it will make a difference, if not to the whole, it will to you.
Some time ago I realized the idea of duty in a different context: being a Dad. I loved my daughters because I thought well of them, and liked what they did. But sometimes they did things that I did not like, and I realized that it was important that I love them anyway, because it was my job.
When I started out as a Dad, I was an idealist. I had ideas about what I should be and how my kids should be. Those were my ideals, and they didn’t work out that well. I wasn’t the way I thought I should be and my kids were not, either. They were—kids—and I was the way I was, not the way I imagined I would be. It took me quite a while to accept those facts. And I was able to make improvements in the way I was, but only with a lot of work. Not ideal. But real.
I ended up a stoic.
You can’t control what you get, but you can control what you do.
I learned that being a father and a husband were jobs that I had. What my kids did or what my wife did was not something I could control. What I could control what I did, and not always that. But it was my job to do my best.
I’ve learned that it’s my job to always do my best and not complain about what I get in return. It’s nice to get something nice in return from other people, but that’s now why I do what I do. As much as possible I do what I do because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes I’m still a selfish dick, way less than when I was young, but sometimes I am. I don’t think that’s ever the right thing to do and I keep working to be less selfish and less dickish. Why be selfish with the people I care about? I’m living in abundance! Why be a dick? It’s just a bad habit.
Being a Dad and a husband are still my jobs. I still take them seriously. I still work at getting better. I don’t look for anything in return because I’m not doing my job to get something in return. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing for me to do. And the right thing is for me to do my best.
And now I’ve got this new grandfather job to learn. I’m not that great at it, but I hope to get better.